Any Time Now Matthew 25:1-13

Contemporary English Version (CEV)
A Story about Ten Girls
25 The kingdom of heaven is like what happened one night when ten girls took their oil lamps and went to a wedding to meet the groom. 2 Five of the girls were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps, but no extra oil. 4 The ones who were wise took along extra oil for their lamps.
5 The groom was late arriving, and the girls became drowsy and fell asleep. 6 Then in the middle of the night someone shouted, “Here’s the groom! Come to meet him!”
7 When the girls got up and started getting their lamps ready, 8 the foolish ones said to the others, “Let us have some of your oil! Our lamps are going out.”
9 The girls who were wise answered, “There’s not enough oil for all of us! Go and buy some for yourselves.”
10 While the foolish girls were on their way to get some oil, the groom arrived. The girls who were ready went into the wedding, and the doors were closed. 11 Later the other girls returned and shouted, “Sir, sir! Open the door for us!”
12 But the groom replied, “I don’t even know you!”
13 So, my disciples, always be ready! You don’t know the day or the time when all this will happen.
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Have you ever had to depend on someone to be on time? My most excruciating waits were for my parents. I grew up thinking that farmers operated on a different clock system. Well, yes, they did.
Junior choir was one of the few times that I got off the farm, and I loved to sing. I was the only country kid, and for some reason, my mom could not time the end of junior choir with how long it took to drive from the farm to church, which was in town. I was always the last one standing in the dusk as everybody climbed into the cars of more punctual parents. I was used to walking into to Sunday School late, being the last one to leave the 4-H meeting. Punctuality, though valued, was unachievable. Until my dad had no place to go and nothing to do. Then a doctor’s appointment that required a five minute drive meant leaving thirty minutes early.
I didn’t learn from any of that, of course. I “learned” to be late and because being early was valued by my husband, time became a point of frustration for us.
Not only is being on time important to making things run smoothly. Being prepared is also important.
Cooking comes to mind—-when you’re making a custard pie and you are one egg short, well, you have to get creative. When you’re canning tomatoes and you run out of lids, they don’t magically appear as you search the furthest corners of the pantry. How about sewing a dress and you don’t have enough interfacing? Or you’re mowing the lawn and you run out of gas? Baling hay and you run out of twine? Wrapping presents and you run out of scotch tape. Painting a room and you’re a quart short. And don’t get me started on the last pair of clean socks. Or, as parents of school age children, did you ever need poster board for a project that was due the next day? How many cereal boxes can you tape together to get the same size as a store-bought piece of cardboard?
It’s all about preparation. Even being on time is about preparation. I’m pretty sure my Mom was preparing to pick me up, that is, putting on make-up when she should have been jumping in the car to rescue me from the front steps of the church. She never goes anywhere without her makeup. Mom! It’s dark! There’s nobody else here! No one is going to see you!!!!
This wedding story is about being prepared. Weddings take so much preparation—-they always have—-because a wedding means so many things to so many people. The father of the bride is ignoring his shrinking bank balance because in a short time, his daughter will be someone else’s financial liability. The mother of the bride is more stressed than the bride because this is like every baptism, confirmation and graduation rolled into one. People will TALK! Everything has to be perfect. And even though everyone is saying that no one will remember the screwups, you don’t have that satisfaction until after the wedding.
The wedding in Jesus’ parable was a big deal. Ten bridesmaids is a big deal. According to my sources, little is known about wedding practices of first century Palestine, so we have to take the bit of information we have and make some guesses. But really, for Matthew’s purposes, all the important details are presented in what he has written. The bridegroom is on his way, maybe from a long distance, maybe delayed by a bachelor party—it doesn’t matter. He is late. The bridesmaids have lamps, which indicates that they are to provide light for the bridegroom as he arrives. The bridegroom is expected at a certain time. All ten bridesmaids are prepared for him to arrive at that time. Five of the bridesmaids suspect he will be late, so they bring extra oil. That’s all we need to know—who is ready for the expected and who is ready for the unexpected. For Matthew’s purposes we don’t need to know about the bride, we don’t need to know about the parents. We need to know about being prepared.
This parable functions as an allegory; that is, more than one piece of it is symbolic. The bridegroom is Jesus. The bridesmaids are us. Jesus is delayed. Remember that Matthew was writing this gospel at least forty years after Jesus’ resurrection, and Jesus’ return seemed delayed. When Jesus said he was returning, he implied that it would be in the lifetime of those listening. Yet, here it was a generation or two later, and no Jesus. Matthew uses this parable to emphasize that Jesus is still coming, hence the late bridegroom.
The purpose of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians is to reassure them that yes, Jesus is returning to unite us with him. They are worried that the people who have already died will be not be taken up into heaven.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 With a loud command and with the shout of the chief angel and a blast of God’s trumpet, the Lord will return from heaven. Then those who had faith in Christ before they died will be raised to life. 17 Next, all of us who are still alive will be taken up into the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the sky. From that time on we will all be with the Lord forever.
The Thessalonians also had some other issues. Some people stopped working and just sat around waiting for Jesus to return. They were that confident that Jesus would be back any day. So Paul had to warn them to get back to work and stop mooching off others.
11 Try your best to live quietly, to mind your own business, and to work hard, just as we taught you to do. 12 Then you will be respected by people who are not followers of the Lord, and you won’t have to depend on anyone.
And some people became careless and forgot that Jesus was returning, not just to gather them up, but to judge them. So Paul warned about falling into patterns of immorality.
2 Remember the instructions we gave you as followers of the Lord Jesus. 3 God wants you to be holy, so don’t be immoral in matters of sex. 4 Respect and honor your wife. 5 Don’t be a slave of your desires or live like people who don’t know God.
So, how does this parable speak to us? The lesson for us is that we need to be prepared for Jesus’ return, Jesus’ promise to come gather us together in real time, right where we are.
If oil represents our faith, how do we keep extra oil on hand?
One answer: we nurture our faith through all the practices Jesus taught us. We read Scripture. We pray. We worship. We practice the commandments. We take nothing for granted.
Our denomination doesn’t make a big deal about Jesus’ return, about the Second Coming. But that doesn’t mean that since Jesus hasn’t shown up so far, that we should act like he was just kidding about coming back.
Several theologians see the difference between the foolish and the wise virgins as the difference between those Christians who give lip service to the commandments and those who actively seek out ways to love God and neighbor. Interestingly enough, the Greek word for foolish is “moron.” Matthew calls those five out-of-luck bridesmaids morons. Who are the morons, then, in the church?
Rev. Glenn Monson, a Lutheran pastor, describes St. Augustine’s interpretation of the parable.
St. Augustine argued that both the wise and the foolish maidens were members of the Church, but that the wise maidens – the ones with oil in their lamps – were the members of the church who practiced an enduring love.  He thought that the foolish maidens were those who were interested primarily in mere appearances, and they were even foolish enough to believe that works of charity could be purchased.  They were foolish mainly then, because they believed that the appearance of charity was all the Lord required, rather than an enduring love.
So perhaps the oil represents good works. Luther believed that the oil represented faith. Monson concludes:
Whatever the oil represents, it is considered essential in order to be admitted to the heavenly feast.
That makes sense to me, because our faith is what inspires us to do good works. We are lamps, the light of the world. Do you remember when the first President Bush said that churches should take over some of the charitable work of government? He called churches a “thousand points of light.”
He first used the phrase when he accepted the nomination for president in 1988. He used it again in his inaugural address in 1989:
I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding. We will work on this in the White House, in the Cabinet agencies. I will go to the people and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I will ask every member of my government to become involved. The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.
Bush was theologically correct, but his statement was eventually interpreted to mean that the government was not responsible for the well-being of those whom the church traditionally sheltered: the poor, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant. The churches felt that they were being called on to do more than was physically or financially possible for them. Bush seems to indicate that “every member of my government” will join in these efforts. However, the balance has still not been found, and Washington is once again suggesting that the churches are responsible for the welfare of the marginalized. This would be great if the churches were not shrinking in size and resources. Latest statistic on church membership is that fifty-one per cent of our citizens have no church affiliation. That makes forty-nine percent of us responsible for feeding 12.3 percent of the population.(based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 estimates) Twelve point three sounds like a small number until you realize that the number includes nearly forty million Americans.
Are we being asked to do too more than we can handle? Yes. But that doesn’t mean we give up. If the oil in our lamps is our faith, we need to prepare for the times when we lean most heavily on our faith, in times of illness, of betrayal, of death. If the oil in our lamps is good works, we actively look for ways to minister to God’s people. We don’t sit on our hands, assuming that we are home free, or worse, that we are helpless.
I’ve read in different places that faith is more than a noun, a thing, an idea. Faith is a verb, an action. Somewhere in my library is a book entitled, Faith Active In Love. That’s how faith works: it starts with love for God and it becomes love for neighbor and before you know it, you’re busy helping your neighbor.
So, waiting for Jesus is not dressing up in a white robe, sitting on a mountaintop and waiting for a circus in the sky. Waiting for Jesus is being Jesus. Waiting for Jesus is talking like Jesus. Waiting for Jesus is thinking like Jesus, acting like Jesus.
There are days when I say to myself, “Come, Lord Jesus.” I mumble, “Come, Lord Jesus.” I scream, “Come, Lord Jesus.” I sigh, “Come, Lord Jesus.” I say it because I want Jesus to rescue me from this world. I want Jesus to charge in on a white stallion or a Blackhawk helicopter and take down the bad guys, and, as long as he’s on earth, feed the hungry and cure the sick. That is not how Jesus operates. He is not going to charge in on a white horse and round up the bad guys. The bad guys are our neighbors as are the good guys. So my prayer must be, “Come, Lord Jesus, show me how to minister to my all my neighbors. Amen.”

Don’t Forget to R.S.V.P! Matthew 22:1-14

22 Once again Jesus used stories to teach the people:

The kingdom of heaven is like what happened when a king gave a wedding banquet for his son.

The king sent some servants to tell the invited guests to come to the banquet, but the guests refused.

He sent other servants to say to the guests, “The banquet is ready! My cattle and prize calves have all been prepared. Everything is ready. Come to the banquet!”

But the guests did not pay any attention.

Some of them left for their farms, and some went to their places of business.

6 Others grabbed the servants, then beat them up and killed them.

This made the king so furious that he sent an army to kill those murderers and burn down their city.

Then he said to the servants, “It is time for the wedding banquet, and the invited guests don’t deserve to come.

Go out to the street corners and tell everyone you meet to come to the banquet.” 10 They went out on the streets and brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike.

And the banquet room was filled with guests.

11 When the king went in to meet the guests, he found that one of them wasn’t wearing the right kind of clothes for the wedding.

12 The king asked, “Friend, why didn’t you wear proper clothes for the wedding?”

But the guest had no excuse.

13 So the king gave orders for that person to be tied hand and foot and to be thrown outside into the dark.

That’s where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain.

Many are invited, but only a few are chosen.

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Which part of this parable sounds like real life?

1. A king gives a wedding banquet for his son.  That sounds normal.

2. The guests refuse the invitation.  That happens.

3.  He sent other servants to say to the guests, “The banquet is ready! My cattle and prize calves have all been prepared. Everything is ready. Come to the banquet!”But the guests did not pay any attention.

In other words, they did not respond, one way or another, to the king.  That happens, too.  Some people just blow off the invitation and the mother of the bride goes nuts trying to figure out what to tell the caterer who charges by the plate.

Some of them left for their farms, and some went to their places of business.

In other words, the invitation from the king was less important than going about the usually daily business.

It gets worse.

4. Others grabbed the servants, then beat them up and killed them.

Is there a message there for the king?  Are his subjects trying to tell him something? Are they trying to tell him they want nothing to do with him?

Now it gets really weird. Whatever the message is, the king doesn’t take it well.  He seems to over-react:

5. This made the king so furious that he sent an army to kill those murderers and burn down their city.

That didn’t end well.  But it cut down on the number of guests.  However, the food was already prepared. So who’s going to eat it?

I know of at least three weddings where the groom baled. What do you do with all that food?   The king had a plan:

6. Then he said to the servants, “It is time for the wedding banquet, and the invited guests don’t deserve to come. 

Go out to the street corners and tell everyone you meet to come to the banquet.” They went out on the streets and brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike.  And the banquet room was filled with guests.

Well, that was a nice twist and all ended well for the king and for the guests, many of whom had probably never been inside the palace nor had ever been given such a sumptuous feast.  What a happy ending.  Except.  It gets weird again.

Apparently, even if you’re invited at the last minute to something, you’re expected to dress appropriately.  I would, wouldn’t you if someone said to me, so-and-so is sick and can’t go to this reception—-would you like to go with me?  I’d change out of my jeans and Allis-Chalmers sweatshirt into a nice top and pants, put on some earrings.

Let’s insert a separate discussion here:  What do we use clothes for?  To cover us, to keep us warm.  But clothes also have their own language.  Torn jeans, for instance, used to say, “Your mother doesn’t know how to patch a pair of jeans.  You poor kid.”  Now torn jeans are about the only kind you can buy if you’re a teenager.  Now, torn jeans say that you’re up-to-date, in style.  The language of clothes changes, just like our spoken language. Clothing shows respect; clothing shows preparation.  Clothing can show creativity or practicality.   Fifty years ago, any woman over the age of twenty would wear a hat to special occasions.  Fifty years ago, every man in this church would be wearing a necktie.  When I went to school, I had to wear a dress every day.  No slacks, no jeans, no leggings: skirts only.

About the time I started teaching, it became acceptable for boys and girls to wear jeans to school.  I liked that, because jeans are the great equalizer.  In other words, I couldn’t tell the rich kids apart from the poor kids and neither could anyone else.  Jeans are jeans, blue denim, flat-felled seams up the sides, pockets front and back, zipper in the front, belt loops. I truly appreciated that at least one element of class distinction was eliminated.

 And then there are weddings.  I have an outfit in my closet for each family wedding from the last ten years.  For some reason, I needed a different dress each time.  We dress differently for weddings than we do for graduation parties or even church. The king in our parable expected people, even though they were last minute guests, to dress for a wedding banquet.  Apparently everybody did. Except the one guy who got caught.

7. When the king went in to meet the guests, he found that one of them wasn’t wearing the right kind of clothes for the wedding. 

The king asked, “Friend, why didn’t you wear proper clothes for the wedding?” 

But the guest had no excuse. 

So the king gave orders for that person to be tied hand and foot and to be thrown outside into the dark. 

That’s where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain.

Was that a little extreme?  Was the guy drunk?  Was he annoying the other guests? No.  He simply wasn’t dressed for the occassion.

Now.  What are we supposed to learn from this parable?  It’s not about wedding manners.  It’s about the Kingdom of God.

In the words of Erick J. Thompson (Senior Pastor, St. John Lutheran,Fargo, North Dakota),

To put on the wedding robe provided by the king is to take on the garments of Christ; when we come to the wedding feast, we are clothed like everyone else in mercy. If we refuse this mercy by instead relying on our own works or accomplishments, we stand in judgement. As Paul reminds us, those who wish to be judged under the law will face the consequences.

We are clothed in mercy.  Mercy is a gift that we can accept or reject. If we fall back on our reason, have faith only in our own judgment, then we are saying we don’t need God. We have been chosen by God. And here’s the thing: God has chosen everyone. We’ve all received the same invitation and we don’t have to do anything to prove that we are worthy of the invitation. Thompson asks, “…can we live with a God who doesn’t care how great we are at our jobs, and who has chosen everyone?

Karoline Lewis, Luther Seminary professor, is more blunt:

 The chosen are the ones who realize that just showing up is not enough anymore. The chosen are the ones who insist that mere acquiescence, week after week, day after day, to doctrine and dogma will not stand the test of what it means to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The chosen are the ones who believe that a God who is Immanuel might very well stake a claim on their own humanity.

The kingdom of Heaven is now and we need to act like faith is an emergency, not an attitude. Being invited into the Kingdom is not an invitation we can blow off. To be complacent, to try to regain the good old days, is like showing up in your pajamas.

We can love our church, we can rejoice in its fine history, but history is made by changing. History is made by people who find new solutions to old problems.  History is made by people who take risks. As Christians, the risks we take are guided not by profit, but by love.

Matthew is warning us against self-satisfaction, against being content with keeping the doors open. He is warning us against wishing the pews would fill up all by themselves.

Following Jesus is so much more than this lovely time we spend together.  Following Jesus is speaking kindly of others. Aways. Following Jesus is being thankful for what you have. Always.  Following Jesus is finding ways to help not only your family, not only your neighbor, but also the refugee, the immigrant, the alien, the lawbreaker, the loser, the addict, the weirdo.  Always. Furthermore, following Jesus gives you the right to invite others to the feast.

We have been invited to the greatest feast ever imagined.  The invitation requires a response, not just once, but with each breath. Don’t forget to R.S.V.P.  Amen.

Where is the Kingdom? Matthew 20: 1-16

20 As Jesus was telling what the kingdom of heaven would be like, he said:
Early one morning a man went out to hire some workers for his vineyard. 2 After he had agreed to pay them the usual amount for a day’s work, he sent them off to his vineyard.
3 About nine that morning, the man saw some other people standing in the market with nothing to do. 4 He said he would pay them what was fair, if they would work in his vineyard. 5 So they went.
At noon and again about three in the afternoon he returned to the market. And each time he made the same agreement with others who were loafing around with nothing to do.
6 Finally, about five in the afternoon the man went back and found some others standing there. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”
7 “Because no one has hired us,” they answered. Then he told them to go work in his vineyard.
8 That evening the owner of the vineyard told the man in charge of the workers to call them in and give them their money. He also told the man to begin with the ones who were hired last. 9 When the workers arrived, the ones who had been hired at five in the afternoon were given a full day’s pay.
10 The workers who had been hired first thought they would be given more than the others. But when they were given the same, 11 they began complaining to the owner of the vineyard. 12 They said, “The ones who were hired last worked for only one hour. But you paid them the same that you did us. And we worked in the hot sun all day long!”
13 The owner answered one of them, “Friend, I didn’t cheat you. I paid you exactly what we agreed on. 14 Take your money now and go! What business is it of yours if I want to pay them the same that I paid you? 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Why should you be jealous, if I want to be generous?”
16 Jesus then said, “So it is. Everyone who is now first will be last, and everyone who is last will be first.”
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What is your gut reaction to this story?
Which worker would you like to be? The one who worked all day? The worker who worked a few hours? The worker who worked only one hour?
Is this parable even applicable in the twenty-first century? That is, are wages distributed unevenly among workers nowadays?
Or put it another way: does everybody get paid the same amount of money for the same amount of work?
This parable brings up a ton of questions and a lot of reactions. I posted the passage on Facebook and asked people to react. The people who responded to my post all were familiar with the parable, since they have all been church goers all their lives. My cousin, who was married to a pastor, my cousin whose brother is a pastor , and my friend who is a youth pastor—-they all know what they’re supposed to learn from this passage.
—At first I agree with the ones who worked all day, and then I think about the thief on the cross, and I know the owner of the vineyard is right!
—People care too much about something that isn’t their business. It’s not my business to know what my neighbor is being paid at their job, even if it’s the exact same as mine.
—“That’s right” is what I thought from the first. On two levels (worldly levels I admit) 1) what is good for one is not bad for others – do not begrudge another’s good fortune. And 2) it is the Master’s choice – we are free to be generous with our blessings if we choose. And thinking on it over the years, and with some livin’ behind me, jealousy or covetousness of another’s blessings is not very appealing in ourselves or others. I’m a worker in the vineyard too and receive at least what is fair – often more. Thank you Lord for Loving me.
Truthfully, I am afraid to preach this text because the relevance I see to the world in which we live is upsetting.
What in this passage can be comforting or even encouraging?
Don’t we come here to be comfortable, to feel good? We have comfortable seats, we enjoy each other’s company. We don’t come here to be challenged. We don’t come here to hear about the problems of the world. We each have our own problems.
And yet. There’s this guy Jesus. Jesus has inspired at lot of warm fuzzies. A lot of great music. Jesus-loves-me.-Amen. -See-you-next-week. Is that all there is?
I have coffee at Sunrise Cafe just about everyday. One of my friends always gives me a hard time about working only an hour a week. It is our private joke. When I was a teacher, I heard all the teacher jabs, too. We had summers off. If you can’t do it, teach it. And I heard once in a while, growing up on a farm, how some people only work from eight to five while farmers worked from dawn to dusk. And then there’s the ultimate dig: man can work from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done.
What do these epigrams have in common? Judgment. They all express our judgment about how hard or how long the other person works compared to how hard or long we work.
Is there anything wrong with that? Well, yes, when it leads to breaking commandments. I’m thinking of the tenth commandment:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.—including his job.
Maybe I’m stretching a little bit, but if we compare our neighbors work unfavorably to our own, that is coveting—wishing for—something about our neighbor’s work. But I don’t think we necessarily want our neighbor’s job.
What we really want is for other people to value the work we do. We want other people, even those who don’t know anything about our job, to appreciate our effort.
Have you ever had to work at a job you didn’t like? What woman enjoys every minute of keeping house? What farmer enjoys getting stuck in the mud? But that’s not the point. I think what bugs us, even hurts us the most, is that we feel that our work is not valued. When I think back to my teaching days, while I valued the autonomy of being in charge of my own classroom and students, I resented the fact that my efforts were not recognized by my bosses. Each year, every teacher is evaluated by the principal. Each year, I went in, hoping to be given some criticism, some suggestions, on how I could be a better teacher. All I ever got was a “you’re doing ok.” That is a lot better than getting fired, but I felt like as long as I kept the kids out of the hallways, nobody cared what I did as a teacher. (I will say that I think teacher is one of the greatest jobs in the world when it comes to being appreciated, because students stay in your lives and share with you the great things you did for them. That doesn’t happen in too many other professions.)
The least I was ever paid was for baling hay. My brother was paid a penny a bale when he baled for the neighbor. Sarah, Mary, Sue and I were treated to pizza at Happy Joe’s at the end of the summer.
Think for a minute about the work you’ve done. Who appreciates it? While a fat, sleek steer never comes back to the farmer and says “Thanks for sending me to the slaughterhouse,” the person who sticks a fork in a nice, juicy steak does appreciate the farmer’s work. If you’ve helped to build a tractor or an earth mover, the person who sits in the seat in the middle of a field appreciates you’re work. If you’ve served a meal to a hungry stranger at a restaurant and made him feel welcome, you’re appreciated. If you deliver a load of steel to a plant manager, you’re appreciated. If you’ve checked out somebody’s groceries after they’ve been waiting in line, you’re appreciated. You don’t hear the words, but even a grumpy customer appreciates being waited on.
Why does any candidate ever get elected to office? Because she or he makes you feel appreciated by promising to make something good happen in your life. There’s no guarantee that any of the promised changes in the law will happen, but at least someone appreciates that you need a change in how you are represented.
How do you know you’re appreciated? You don’t. We often take the labors of others for granted.
That’s the story of the laborers today. Those who worked eight hours were no more appreciated than those who worked one hour.
Now, my whole approach so far has missed the point.
Karoline Lewis is a professor at Luther Seminary and I read her articles almost every week to help me understand the text. She suggests that the parable simply reminds the listener of how unfair the world is.
Regardless of what they were paid, all the workers went home seeing more clearly the vast gulf that exists between the landowner and themselves. They have gotten paid, but the landowner has now taken their dignity and whatever vestiges of power they might once have possessed. They will be back in marketplace again tomorrow. Nothing has changed but the self-respect they have had wrenched away.
The parable in fact depicts a limited, and thus false, form of justice. We can tell it is false justice because it produces envy and division, rather than wholeness and healed relationships. Jesus’ disciples have and will soon again demonstrate their interest in securing places of status and prestige in the kingdom (Matthew 18:1, 19:27-30, 20:20-23). They, too, like the workers in the vineyard, will splinter and become alienated. The parable is meant for them. It is a harsh reminder that there is no justice, no kingdom of heaven, when we end up alone in the world.
That’s pretty depressing, isn’t it. So, where is God in this?
In another article, Lewis says that Jesus’ parable reminds us that some of us have more privilege than others.
You think your privilege will make a difference? Will matter? Of course you do. That’s human nature. That’s human sin. You’d like to believe that’s not the case, but this is precisely why this parable has to be told — again and again.
That’s the reason preaching on this text makes me squirm, because I think the parable is about privilege. White privilege is a media buzzword. But it is also a real dynamic, a real power, in how people get along, whether it be in a community or a business, an airport or a grocery store. And we white people don’t like to hear that we are privileged, because we can think of a thousand ways we aren’t privileged. We can think of a thousand people who are more privileged than us. My job is not to scold you or even educate you about your white privilege. Neither is it my job to reassure you that you are off the the hook because you don’t have any commerce with people of color.
My job is to talk about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the opposite of the vineyard in today’s story. The Kingdom of God is the opposite of Walmart employment polices and the opposite of the cult of the 1%. The Kingdom of God is the opposite of the have’s and have not’s.
The Kingdom of God is based on the Beatitudes.
3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. (The Message, Eugene Petersen)
That’s the kind of world we live in. What the ordinary human being sees as desirable—honor, pride, wealth, comfort—are not marks of success in The Kingdom. The efforts, the work, to become successful in the world’s eyes, lead to selfishness, lead to envy, lead to corruption.
So, if Jesus is not talking about the “real world,” what are we supposed to learn from this?
Well, besides your job as parent or spouse or truck driver or factory worker or nurse, you also have been called to serve, to work in The Kingdom. What is your work in the Kingdom? Appreciation. Caring. Our job is to care for each other, which we’re really, really good at in this congregation. But our caring requirements don’t stop at the door of this building, nor do they reside within the four walls of our homes. Our caring extends through our words, thoughts, and actions in the rest of the world, to those who are that end of their rope, to those who are frustrated, to those who are persecuted, to those who are hungry, to those who are sick, to those who are not privileged, to those who can’t get their act together, to those who were born in the wrong time in the wrong place.
What does that look like? It can be very hands on or it can be more subtle. When someone badmouths a group of people, you can walk away or you can call them on it. You can use that clever question: What do you mean? Sometimes when we have to explain ourselves, we discover that we’re simply repeating something we’ve heard. We have not experienced the danger of a Muslim neighbor or a gay neighbor or Black neighbor. We’ve been told by someone who told someone who told someone that a Muslim or a queer or a Black is bad. Standing up for the Muslim or the queer or the Black is working in the Kingdom. Or let’s make this more relevant. In the community I live in, I hear comments about the two apartment buildings near me and I hear comments about the people who live in the trailer park. They are all lumped into “loser” category. What a bucket of crap. The Kingdom doesn’t have any zoning codes.
May God makes us blind to the views of the world and give us the strength to walk with our eyes wide open in The Kingdom of God. Amen.

The Hard Work: Forgiveness Matthew 18:15-35 (CEV)

When Someone Sins
15 If one of my followers sins against you, go and point out what was wrong. But do it in private, just between the two of you. If that person listens, you have won back a follower. 16 But if that one refuses to listen, take along one or two others. The Scriptures teach that every complaint must be proven true by two or more witnesses. 17 If the follower refuses to listen to them, report the matter to the church. Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector.
Allowing and Not Allowing
18 I promise you that God in heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth, but he will not allow anything you don’t allow. 19 I promise that when any two of you on earth agree about something you are praying for, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you.
An Official Who Refused To Forgive
21 Peter came up to the Lord and asked, “How many times should I forgive someone who does something wrong to me? Is seven times enough?”
22 Jesus answered:
Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times! 23 This story will show you what the kingdom of heaven is like:
One day a king decided to call in his officials and ask them to give an account of what they owed him. 24 As he was doing this, one official was brought in who owed him fifty million silver coins. 25 But he didn’t have any money to pay what he owed. The king ordered him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all he owned, in order to pay the debt.
26 The official got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you every cent I owe!” 27 The king felt sorry for him and let him go free. He even told the official that he did not have to pay back the money.
28 As the official was leaving, he happened to meet another official, who owed him a hundred silver coins. So he grabbed the man by the throat. He started choking him and said, “Pay me what you owe!”
29 The man got down on his knees and began begging, “Have pity on me, and I will pay you back.” 30 But the first official refused to have pity. Instead, he went and had the other official put in jail until he could pay what he owed.
31 When some other officials found out what had happened, they felt sorry for the man who had been put in jail. Then they told the king what had happened. 32 The king called the first official back in and said, “You’re an evil man! When you begged for mercy, I said you did not have to pay back a cent. 33 Don’t you think you should show pity to someone else, as I did to you?” 34 The king was so angry that he ordered the official to be tortured until he could pay back everything he owed. 35 That is how my Father in heaven will treat you, if you don’t forgive each of my followers with all your heart.
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Let’s start by making some lists. First of all, make a list of all the sins you have ever committed.
Pause.
If that list is too long, make a list of all the time you have hurt someone by word or deed.
Pause.
Make another list of all the times someone has hurt you through their words or deeds.
Pause.
Stop!
As you realize, these are impossible tasks. Our sins are so numerous and most of the time are committed unconsciously, so we hardly remember them.
Martin Luther was obsessed with sin. As a young monk, he would sometimes confess for six hours at a time, trying to remember every sin. Why was he obsessed with sin? Because he knew that if he did’t ask God for forgiveness for every single sin, he would go to hell. He was so obsessed with God’s judgement that at times he hated God.
The Holy Roman Church used this view of sin to raise money. The church sold “indulgences,” pieces of paper that could be purchased from a member of the clergy, which declared forgiveness of sin. Luther’s 95 Theses criticized this practice. When one bought a indulgence, one did not need to repent.
Luther nearly had a nervous breakdown over his sins and his fear of an angry God, so his advisor suggested that he read the Bible and learn about God’s forgiveness.
From his reading, Luther eventually concluded that God’s forgiveness is unconditional and unendingly generous. That is the God we all grew up with, a God who forgives any and all sins. Like Luther, we confess our sins, but unlike the young Luther, we know that even the sins we do not confess our forgiven. Our God is a generous God.
There is another aspect of forgiveness thought that we are not so keen on. That is the act of forgiving others.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Peter tries to pin down Jesus on how much forgiveness is enough. I’m guessing that Peter is going over his own sins in his mind. You may remember that Peter had an impetuous personality. He sometimes spoke before he thought. It’s common knowledge that a quick tongue can utter an unkind or foolish thought that would be best unspoken. But once the words are out of the mouth, the sin is there.
The Hebrew word for sin can be translated as “missing the mark.” Think about a bow and arrow or a stone and a slingshot. Shooting an arrow or throwing a stone are both intentional acts; our goal is always to hit the mark of goodness, of righteousness.
However, I don’t like that analogy for sin in my daily context.
How often does my sin hit the target like an arrow straight to the heart? How many times has my sin wounded someone? How many times have I drawn blood, opened wounds with my words?
I say “words” because my most lethal weapon, more poisonous than any drug, is words.
Words can be helpful or healing, and we can all think of times when we’ve given or received helpful words. But the times when we use words to hurt someone, intentionally or accidentally, are like bullets smacking a target. The bullet goes through the target and leaves a hole, a wound.
When I am the target, that hole, that wound does not often heal itself. Instead it festers, it becomes in infected, and the poison spreads through my mind.
Let me give you an example. Someone says something unkind about my dear friend. We have to give them names, so let’s say Alvina says that my friend, Letty, is a bad cook. Let’s say she says it in front of several people. That hurts my feelings, because, although I know my friend Letty is not the greatest cook in the world, saying it in front of others will not make her a better cook. It hurts Letty’s reputation, so it hurts my feelings. So the wound is there in my heart; now, whenever I think of Alvina, whenever I see her, I remember that unkind remark about Letty and I let the wound fester. I now think of Alvina only in negative terms. I may say something bad about Alvina to someone else. I may wish Alvina doesn’t come to card club anymore. The wound festers.
Where does forgiveness come in here? I should have, in my heart, forgiven Alvina the first time she criticized Letty’s cooking. I should have let it go.
Sometimes our sinful thoughts are prompted by jealousy. I see Edith’s kids getting better parts in the school play than mine, or getting to play in the basketball game instead of sitting on the bench like my kids. I start to see Edith as an enemy, as a bad person, and I find myself first thinking unkind things about Edith, like she wears weird shoes, or that she yells too much at the games, and soon, my attitude affects how I treat her. Sometimes my attitude influences others, and Edith, through no sin of her own, becomes a target for others’ unkind thoughts. That’s sin.
These may seem like little things, but many times, the little things become big things, and the situation gets out of control.
My point is not to describe 101 ways to sin, but to show us how easy it is to hold sin in or to be blind to our own sin.
Jesus forgives us our sins. But I tend to neglect part two: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. We say it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
Let’s take a macro view: what if, after World War 1, Germany forgave Great Britain and France and the United States for the harsh treatment outlined in the Treaty of Versailles? Or back it up, what if Great Britain and France the United States forgave Germany for reacting to the shot fired in Sarajevo that started World War 1?
What if the families of victims as well as the courts forgave murderers and thieves? What if wives forgave husbands for infidelity and husbands forgave wives for letting the kids run wild?
Part of the problem with forgiveness is that we think mathematically by nature, or at least we keep score. Let me give you one ridiculous example from my own experience. My parents lived two counties away, in Muscatine County. My husband’s parents lived in California. My in-laws flew us out to California once a year for a two-week visit, so we spent roughly 336 hours with them, but who’s counting? I was. I felt that we didn’t go visit my parents often enough, so I started writing down how many hours we spent with my parents, which was usually a couple hours on a Sunday, occasionally a a few hours on a Saturday. Ridiculous and pointless, of course. It was like comparing apple to oranges and it did not affect in any way the love those grandparents had for their grandchildren, not the love my children had for their grandparents. Simple jealousy on my part, complicated by math.
But that’s how forgiveness can work. We want everything to come out even. So if I forgive you, you have to forgive me. And we can’t seem to just forgive. How often do we demand that someone ask us for forgiveness in the form of an apology? How often do we just let it go—with a grudge: consider the source. That’s my ungrateful, unkind remark when forgiveness is neither asked nor given. “Consider the source,” I say, implying that the “source,” the person, is unworthy of my forgiveness.
God’s forgiveness is unconditional. There are no unforgivable sins. I was taught in Confirmation that no sin is worse than another. I could murder someone or envy my girlfriend’s new doll; it was all the same. Well, I know now that it’s a little more complicated than that. Murder hurts a lot more people than my wanting a new doll.
Again, our mathematical minds like to rank sins. It seems to me that breaking the sixth commandment gets an undue amount of attention in the media compared to breaking the ninth or tenth commandment. In other words, if a famous person commits adultery, it’s all over the news. If a famous person wants to exploit the land or another country, it’s not that important.
In the same way, I’m inclined to rank the sins of those closest to me. Perhaps I rank them according to how much they hurt me. Perhaps I rank them according to how much money it costs me or how much time.
As a pastor, I can’t afford to rank sins. It’s much easier to remain neutral when I am serving as pastor, because my teaching guides me: a sin is a sin.
I was at the Rural Ministry Conference at Wartburg Seminary last week. Dr. Craig Nessan, one of Wartburg’s professors, spoke about Luther’s concept of the Priesthood of Believers. We are all priests, all clergy, by nature of the fact that we all follow Jesus.
By extension, that means that we act as if we are priests, close followers of Jesus, active participants in the Christian life. Furthermore, that means we give and forgive as generously as God forgives.
You do not have any excuses. You cannot say (and how many times I’ve heard this), “I’m only human.” That is a weak, and theologically incorrect excuse. You are human because you are made in the image of God. When God created you, God made you like him. That means you have many of the same characteristics, the same attributes, even the same power as God. You are not sinless, but you can love and rejoice and create like God does. And you can forgive like God does.
Examine your heart. Are there names of people that trigger a darkness in your heart? Are there people who have hurt you so badly that they haunt you? You do not have to forget them. You can still prosecute them according to the law, if that is called for, because you are also a citizen of this country. But your healing starts when you forgive them—because God forgives you.
Withholding forgiveness is like asking to let the hurt continue. God knows what forgiveness can do because God’s love for us makes forgiveness possible. Forgiveness is a process, an intentional act. It is not easy because it requires us to change our minds and our hearts.I find forgiveness much much harder to give than I do charity. It is easy, at least from a distance to offer help, like bringing food for the food pantry, like bringing desserts to the fish fry. But God is our personal God, and God cares deeply about each of us. God wants the best for us, even if the best is the hard work of forgiving. Amen.

Tranfiguration

Matthew 16:24-17:8 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples:
If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. 25 If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find it. 26 What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What would you give to get back your soul?
27 The Son of Man will soon come in the glory of his Father and with his angels to reward all people for what they have done. 28 I promise you that some of those standing here will not die before they see the Son of Man coming with his kingdom.
The True Glory of Jesus
17 Six days later Jesus took Peter and the brothers James and John with him. They went up on a very high mountain where they could be alone. 2 There in front of the disciples, Jesus was completely changed. His face was shining like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
3 All at once Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus. 4 So Peter said to him, “Lord, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While Peter was still speaking, the shadow of a bright cloud passed over them. From the cloud a voice said, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him. Listen to what he says!” 6 When the disciples heard the voice, they were so afraid that they fell flat on the ground. 7 But Jesus came over and touched them. He said, “Get up and don’t be afraid!” 8 When they opened their eyes, they saw only Jesus.

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This is one of the stranger events in Jesus’ life. Most of the time, he’s walking among ordinary people, as one of them. He is, of course, not ordinary in the sense of what he says and does among the people. That is why they seek him out, why they’re willing to walk miles to har him, why they’re willing to sit and listen to him for hours at a time But he looks like everybody else, he talks like everybody else, he eats and sleeps like everybody else.
But this event that we read about today is quite different and it has many layers of meaning.
When Jesus wants to be alone, he often climbs up a mountain. Such is the case today.
They went up on a very high mountain where they could be alone. 2 There in front of the disciples, Jesus was completely changed. His face was shining like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
Jesus became something extra-terrestrial. He was completely changed. His face was as bright as the sun. His clothes changed from the drab cloth of his every day robe to a white that glowed. It was not just the angle of the sun or the time of day. The change was internal. Jesus was transfigured into a heavenly being.
The things get stranger. Moses and Elijah appear beside him and the three of them have a conversation. We are never told what words were spoken among them, but scholars assume it was about Jesus’ impending death and resurrection.
Why did Moses and Elijah appear? Why not Abraham and Isaiah? Moses represents one of the major messages of the Old Testament, the Law. Remember that Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. And another point is that when Moses encountered God on Mt. Sinai, his face glowed like the sun.
Exodus 34: 29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.
Remember the line in the hymn “Amazing Grace”….bright shining like the sun… “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining like the sun.”

Why is Elijah there? He is the first prophet and he represents the other major part of the Old Testament, the prophets. Another reason Elijah is there is that he is never buried. He is taken up to heaven by a chariot and horses of fire.
2Kings, 2 11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.
Standing on the Mountaintop are Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, representing the past, the present and the future of God’s relationship with God’s people.
The three disciples, Peter, James and John, can hardly believe their eyes. This not a special effects display put on by some magician. This is real life, even though it resembles nothing like anything possible in real life. They can’t even react. Peter, though, has to say something, has to do something. So he suggests that they build three booths, like the little buildings that are built at the Harvest Festival, or Sukkoth.
Sukkoth is one of the three major Jewish holidays. A sukkah is the name of the temporary dwelling in which farmers would live during harvesting, a fact connecting to the agricultural significance of the holiday stressed by the Book of Exodus. As stated in Leviticus, it is also intended as a reminiscence of the type of fragile dwellings in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Throughout the holiday, meals are eaten inside the sukkah and many people sleep there as well. (Wikipedia) My Jewish friends, back in Muscatine, used to build their booths from corn stalks.
In other words, Peter recognizes that this gathering of Jesus and Moses and Elijah is a big deal and the only thing he can think of is another big deal in the Jewish tradition.
Peter cannot just stand by. Peter is a man of action, of impulse.

Peter is silenced by a voice. That voice comes everywhere and nowhere. It is the voice of God. “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him. Listen to what he says!”
This is the second time in Jesus’ earthly life that God speaks to God’s people. The first time was at Jesus baptism by John. He spoke the exact same words at that occasion: “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him. Listen to what he says!”
This is too much for the disciples. They fall on the ground, trying to disappear. They know that message was not for Jesus or Elijah or Moses. It was for them.
Eventually, the disciples can put all the pieces together…after Jesus death and resurrection.
Shortly before this trip up the mountain, Jesus had explained to his disciples that this itinerant journey around the countryside preaching and healing was going to end soon. 21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
They could not comprehend it, although some of them must have realized that threat from the Pharisees and Sadducees. But resurrection was not a concept they could comprehend. They had not yet seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead—and they might have construed that as just another miraculous healing. The idea of Jesus dying was no different from any of them dying someday—-a long time away. But torture? Resurrection? It didn’t make any sense. Until later.
Eventually, they would understand his instructions to them:
If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. 25 If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find it. 26 What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What would you give to get back your soul?
Those words are meant for us, too. If we are Jesus followers, we have to think beyond ourselves. We must forsake the life the world wants us to follow and live our lives in a way that imitates Jesus. Not that we can lay hands on and heal. Not that we can turn five loaves into a grocery store full of bread. But in our own ways, we can turn a box of cake mix into a smile on the face of somebody at a fish fry. In our own ways, we can bring comfort to the sick with a quilt. In our own ways, we can go against the grain of the world and proclaim Jesus as our Savior. We can choose a life that does not get the attention of the media, but does get the attention of the hurting, the lost, the lonesome.
God says to us, “Listen to Jesus.” We certainly have plenty of other people we can listen to these days, from elected leaders to movie stars to athletes. And, if you are like me, you do listen to elected leaders or movie stars or athletes. But nine times out of ten, I do better if I listen to Jesus. I am happier if I listen to Jesus. I am kinder if I listen to Jesus.
And I look forward to a mountaintop experience with Jesus someday, because everything that Jesus told his disciples became reality. He suffered; he died on the cross; he rose from the dead. And by doing that, he has invited me to rise from the dead with him and join him for eternity. Amen.